Normal? No Such Thing!

What’s a normal brain? Normal behaviour? Do we over-pathologize? In fact, there is no such thing as ‘normal’.

So proclaim Avram Holmes and Lauren Patrick of Yale University psychology department. They’ve discovered something that veteran educators and proper coaches have known for years. 

Meanwhile, the world is busy prescribing drugs to kids to slow them down or speed them up. Or to adults for a whole range of conditions or states of mind that are pathologized with given names. It’s not just autism, OCD, ADHD, Asperger’s and such; we are talking about Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (ask David Kupfer, professor of psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder, Hoarding Disorder (in your attic), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, mobile phone addiction, acculturation shock, Excoriation Disorder (skin-picking), Restless Legs Syndrome, Aboulomania (crippling indecision), Taijin Kyofusho Disorder (Japanese fear of offending), or Erotomania (thinking a celebrity loves you).

It’s too deep to get into here, but for many conditions there may be reasons when it may be beneficial. Just try googling the benefits of ADHD or checking ADHD websites. There are situations when being distracted is a wonderful thing. It’s just another instance of neurodiversity. We see it as good.

“Normal” is relative. There’s no correct way to be human. We are neurodiverse beings.

What Holmes and Patrick’s learned effectively debunks the ‘normal’ myth. (“The Myth of Optimality in Clinical Neuroscience” published in the Trends in Cognitive Science journal).

They show brain uniformity is dangerous for a species. Evolution needs variety. It’s all about being adaptable to new conditions and states of flux. Any single behaviour or set of behaviours may seem useful or harmful in a group. And this is true for psychiatric conditions as well.

So, defining people according to how much they deviate from a single perspective is dangerous. It lacks imagination, stopping people from living fully as themselves.

A warning though: these Yale researchers still suggest assessment and what they call a ‘quantum’ approach. They argue that psychiatrists should refine their practice to try to take a more bird’s-eye and contextual view in classifying human thinking and behaviour. People should still seek psychological help when things get really tough, of course. While mental health clinics might be inadequately nuanced, they still work. But no room to talk about all that here.

Veteran coaches, trainers and educators – usually those with decades of experience and who have survived umpteen different professional mega-trends impacting our practice – know this perfectly well. The Yale study resonates closely with what we believe.

I’m often asked “what system or process do you follow?” or “what model do you use in your coaching practice?” This is frustrating.

The idea of having a prototype process is primitive. Coaches who do are usually just seeking IP advantages and stronger branding for their marketing (and rest assured that catchy trademarked ten-step template is a sign of an inexperienced coach). In fact, no client ever enters coaching with a standard set of issues, let alone a standard personality that will respond in a standard way to standardised work.

Besides, within my coaching scope’s practice, the best speakers are the most authentic ones unafraid of their flaws, not the bombastic clones disguising them.

In a university teacher training course that I head and deliver, I give one regular seminar on learner differentiation. It walks teachers through learning styles and learning difficulties and a range of theories like ‘Habits of Mind’ and ‘Multiple Intelligences’. It explores differentiation in teams, from De Bono’s Hats, to Drexler Sibbert’s model, to Magerison McCann’s used in corporate life. It looks into perceptual constructs on bell curves, like global-to-analytic, sequential-to-random, concrete-to-abstract, and intrinsically-to-extrinsically motivated. And there is a whole lot more besides.

Basically, the idea of normal – we ditched it decades ago! As properly credentialed coaches, trainers and educators, we know we have a ‘social contract’ to take a person from wherever they’re at regardless of where that may be and simply help them move and grow.
And that’s it. There’s no good or bad, no normal or weird. We don’t make judgements!
Tony Corballis, Coach and Trainer


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